In this time of domestic strife in our nation, I’ve read and heard a great deal about the failure of the church to provide desperately needed moral leadership. In fact, the church is splintered into various factions, usually among political lines, and its ability to transcend our divisions and be a force for unity is seriously compromised. Non-believers are observing our behavior and declaring us hypocrites for our immersion into worldly affairs. Some Christian thinkers believe our witness to the world is damaged beyond repair because of controversial policies or personalities with whom some of our leaders are aligned.
The church of Jesus Christ has always had to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, not the least of which are the sins of its adherents. People on the outside looking in are quick to judge the church and its members when they do bad things, and ignore all the good the church does, from the restoration of individual lives to meeting the needs of communities and nations. Some of them are hard of heart and have no incentive to see or acknowledge anything good about the church, but others are watching us, waiting to be persuaded, and Richard Stearns, the president of Worldvision, and his wife Reneé captured the responsibility we as Christians bear to be a lighthouse steering others to the safe harbor of salvation offered by Jesus Christ:
As followers of Christ, we bear the responsibility of demonstrating to the world what Jesus might look like were He to walk the earth today. Those who will never enter the door of a church or read a Bible or hear a sermon can still know Jesus by watching us!
Don’t think for a minute that there were not men and women in the early days of the church who fell short of being like Jesus, thereby giving comfort to the enemies of The Way and disillusioning the hopeless and hurting looking for answers in a fallen world. Even as believers, we struggle with our emotions, and when some of our brothers and sisters in Christ engage in behavior that, in our opinion, turns people away from the Gospel, we are tempted to rebuke them publicly to signal to the world that we are not like them.
Fear of association is not a proper motivation, however, nor is publicly reprimanding a Christian brother or sister to gain favor with an unbelieving world. The Bible calls for us to engage one another differently than the world would expect because we are one in the Holy Spirit and our love for one another should transcend our desire to be viewed favorably by non-believers. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). If you are truly motivated by love and not embarrassment or a need to be accepted by the prevailing culture, you will respond to an errant fellow Christian in a different fashion. If your instinct is to confront or call out a fellow Christian, especially in public, then your motivations are not of God.
The Word is crystal clear on this; our love for one another means that we resolve conflicts within the body of believers with patience, grace and kindness. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven, show humility that places the other person before ourselves, and rejoice when harmony is restored. The apostle Paul devoted much of his ministry to making peace within the church, and his instruction never wavered. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31), and “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).
If the commands of Scripture aren’t enough to compel you to be a peacemaker, then perhaps it will ease your conscience to know that there’s nothing you or the fellow Christian who vexes you can do that will bring down the church of Jesus Christ. When Napoleon Bonaparte threatened to crush the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Ercole Consalvi declared, "If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?" If “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18), then I wouldn’t worry about the petty squabbles between us or the bad public relations they create for us.
When the church was little more than another Messianic Jewish sect in the eyes of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, the respected teacher of the law, established the standard by which the church should be judged:
But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” ~ Acts 5:34-39
The rest, as they say, is history. Unlike all the other Messianic Jewish sects that came before or after it, the Christian church expanded beyond Israel and the known world of its day to become the world’s largest faith. It has endured wars, persecution, corruption, the rise and fall of governments, and the ups and downs of various moral and political movements. It will endure this time, too.